The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest conservation organization, hired six students from the Al Raby School for Community and Environment on Chicago’s West Side to participate in its national Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. Hakeem Coleman, Danyell Myles, Jabaree Vaughn, and Tatyanna Redmond, all 17; and Devon Glenn and Mikia Robinson, 18, are juniors at Al Raby.
They began their 4-week paid internship on July 9. The three boys headed to Lewistown, Illinois, site of Emiquon Complex, and the three girls and their mentor, Amani Abdur-Rahman, took a 4-hour flight to Maine to the Saco Heath Preserve. There they helped rebuild a boardwalk that winds through a bog in the heath, allowing visitors to enjoy a unique natural system without adversely impacting the delicate plants that grow there.
They repaired a bridge by trimming vegetation from the overgrown trail corridor, adding gravel to the existing trail, and carrying lumber and other building material into the heath. At Emiquon, the boys conducted archaeological digs, assisted with equipment maintenance, and cleared invasive plants from the property. After just a week at the site, the boys removed invasive species like thistle, locust, and autumn olive from more than 150 acres of prairie at the Emiquon Preserve and assisted the University of Illinois Springfield in collecting water samples that the students were able to view under microscopes. Emiquon is located about an hour southwest of Peoria and is one of the Midwest’s largest restoration projects.
After significant land conversion along the Illinois River in the last century, The Nature Conservancy and partners have worked to restore this ecosystem that once supported the most productive inland commercial fishery and highest mussel abundance of any river on the continent. With 149 documented sites, scientists also consider Emiquon to be one of the richest locations for Native American archaeology. “Where can a student who is interested in the environment find a paid internship that exposes them to so much in four weeks?” asks Jason Beverlin, The Nature Conservancy’s Illinois River Program Director. “With our partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dickson Mounds Museum, and University of Illinois Springfield, these interns get to roll up their sleeves and do everything from archaeology to zoology.
This comprehensive environmental leadership program has served approximately 20,000 students attending multicultural environmental high schools in urban areas. With the assistance of a $3.1 million grant from the Toyota USA Foundation, the program has added new schools in California, Washington, Illinois, and Massachusetts this year.